Marbella - Mountain Towns

I know what you're all thinking...how many more Marbella blog posts are there?! I promise you this is el último! But in case you haven't seen the others yet, then I do have a Fuerte Hotel, a Casco Antiguo and of course an Evening Outfits one for your viewing pleasure.

As I'm currently suffering from my second cold of this winter season, let me tell you these sunny photos make me miss the warm weather so much! And I'm an Olaf through and through, i.e. I love bundling up when it's cold!

HOTEL HACIENDA PUERTA DEL SOL (IN MIJAS)

Ugh...some of these photos had ridiculous amounts of cable wires and road signs ruining my shots, but now we can all play a game called "see if you can spot the touch-ups?"

Anyway before we went up to visit Mijas Pueblo, we stopped for lunch at the gorgeous Hacienda Puerta Del Sol located not too far from the village. We saw some spectacular views from here too.

MIJAS PUEBLO (IN MIJAS)

Mijas Pueblo is a white village located high up in the Marbella mountains with knockout views over the Mediterranean. As I've mentioned before in my Casco Antiguo post, Andalusians are very fond of the whitewashed walls combined with hanging blue flower pots, and this place was no exception!

Just off the main square there is a multi-storey car park, which makes it easy for tourists to drive up to this mountain town and drop off their cars and have a wander through the quaint cobbled streets of the village by foot. Unfortunately, on the day we went, the lifts of the multi-storey were out of action, so instead my dad dropped my brother and I off for a few minutes to wander around (and so I could take photos).

Despite the large amount of tourists that come through this village, it has still kept its calm and old Spanish ambience (but again we went during the more "off season" that is mid-September). Beware, this picturesque village is not to be confused with Mijas Costa, which is a standard tower block hotel resort on the coastal strip nearby.

PLAZA DE TOROS (IN MIJAS)

Now I'm not a big fan of bullfighting hence why I didn't go anywhere close to inside this building, but apparently this bullring dates back to the 1900s and has a unique and uncommon shape not found anywhere else in the world.

This lady was dressed in gorgeous Flamenco attire and kindly posed for my camera. She appeared pretty much out of nowhere, but her husband and child were dressed in normal/casual clothing (and hence didn't make the cut, muahaha!) so I'm guessing she's one of the performers opening the bullfighting "spectacle".

However, the village had lots of Flamenco restaurant names and posters so I could be completely wrong. Either way, I was super lucky to capture this moment and it really made my two little Flamenco dancer figurines (bought for my souvenirs cabinet), that much more special. Again, spot the sneaky blue flower pot.

BUDDHIST STUPA (IN BENALMÁDENA)

Roughly translated, stupa means spiritual monument and at 33 meters high this building is certainly not going to be missed. The shape also intrigued my family and I (designed to represent a Buddha sitting in meditation), out of pure curiosity we drove up to it to see if it was an art gallery of some sort (it also has great parking for the breath-taking views over the Mediterranean). No such luck on the gallery, but being the largest Buddhist stupa in Europe and with free entry it's certainly worth a visit (if not for the views alone).

But if that's not your cup of tea, there was also a butterfly exhibition next door (alas pure torture for a lepidopterophobe like me! Yes...I know they are harmless! But I still maintain that some have a personal vendetta against me; especially those hungry-looking ones!).

CASTILLO DE COLOMARES (IN BENALMÁDENA)

Unlike the look of it, this castle is actually super modern and isn't really a castle but rather a monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus (the largest in the world which also contains the smallest church in the world) and built between 1987-1994. Combining numerous architectural styles from the Byzantine to the Romanesque with some Gothic and Mudejar, this real conglomerate of styles makes it quite a beauty to behold.

So there you have it, my last Marbella post (I can hear your sighs of relief from here) but guess what?! Now I can do all my Christmas themed posts...YAY!!! (I'm ignoring that collective eye roll; you know you love it!).

Which was your favourite Marbella post?

Which was your favourite view of the Mediterranean? Some pictures flip so look carefully!

Finally, have you guessed which photos have had the most manipulation? (hint: one contains a red car, the other palm trees!)

 

xxxemma

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Marbella - Casco Antiguo (Old Town)

If you haven't seen it already then check out my Marbella Fuerte Hotel post first, for a better idea on where my family and I were staying on our summer vacation. Anyway, literally a five minute walk away from our hotel was this lovely gorgeous little old town called...wait for it...Old Town!!! Ba-dum-tish!!! Well that was slightly anticlimactic...but the Spanish makes it sound way more exotic so we'll go with that; Casco Antiguo (with the fancy accent if you please :P).

CASCO ANTIGUO (OLD TOWN)

PLAZA DE LOS NARANJOS (ORANGE SQUARE)

Continuing with the literal and as the name would suggest, this town square is full of orange trees. Now while I was there the oranges weren't in fruit, but you could still sit down and enjoy some freshly squeezed orange juice by the fruit stand while relishing the nice cool breeze. Or wander around the many little shops and boutiques, like I did, lined with all sorts of pretty things...art, Flamenco skirts and toys! Oh my! And an authentic churro stall - but sadly not for a gluten-intolerant like me (all that yummy melted chocolate sauce, wasted)!

VIRGEN DE LOS DOLORES (VIRGIN OF SORROWS)

Along my promenade and located in the old quarter, I came across the Virgin of Sorrows very much by accident and captured this beautiful shot (which I later realised was the typical touristy shot but I don't care, I still love it!). Niched on a balcony of a house that can be dated back to the 17th century (much like the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation, see below) its main role was to bless the people and the city.

You'll soon come to realise while wandering the little passageways that the contrast of blue flower pots with whitewashed walls is a favourite in Andalucía...

Look, even THE PEOPLE MATCH!!! (Now that's my kind of town!). I kid, I was super lucky that this man walked past and I captured him in time just before he rounded a corner.

I must say I really love this colour combination, it reminds me of the likes of Santorini #wishlistdestination.

In any case you know you're somewhere hot when they can afford to decorate their walls with flowers and flower pots!

Oh look, someone else's clothes matches the pretty flowers (heart eyes emoji)!!! Honestly it's like they were waiting for me on purpose?!!

As you can imagine merrily walking down these little alleyways smelled divine, let alone seeing them.

I really highly recommend doing this if you're ever in Casco Antiguo. Plus, it's also mostly residential areas, so it's super quiet and relaxing.

Most of the hustle and bustle is rooted (excuse the pun) in Orange Square and even then it's not that busy to begin with (but we did travel to Marbella in more of the "off season" that is beginning/mid September so my opinion might be a bit biased).

 

Every alleyway had a hidden gem of some sort; from delicious looking tapas restaurants to breathtaking hanging plants (more like Amazonian forests!) and even cute, secluded and quiet residential squares. Really, it's just up to you to find them!

IGLESIA NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA ENCARNACIÓN (CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE INCARNATION)

Because I can't write a touristy blog post without some sort of history thrown in, be prepared to get bored...I mean highly entertained and intrigued (got to make my History of Art/Architecture degree worth it somehow?!!).

The Church of the Incarnation started construction in 1618, and was restored after the Spanish Civil War. The main entrance made out of ochre stone, located by the Calle Caridad, was built after 1750 and features the Rococo style, a late Baroque style; not as political and more playful and witty. However, the interior which is divided into three sections (apse, transept and nave), is basilica based.

The bell tower is projected to be 33 meters high, restored in 1977 and equipped with a new clock. You can learn more about the church's fascinating history here (my high-school Spanish works for me, but if you're stuck there's nothing a little Google translate can't fix) and here.

As a certain Cogsworth would say "if it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!" and this is pretty much the church in a nutshell (who else is looking forward to the new Beauty and the Beast movie starring Emma Watson?). If you know anything about the Baroque style in question, then you'll know it's all about the drama and exuberant detail. And this sumptuous, and most eye-catching altarpiece I think I've ever seen, doesn't disappoint! This man kneeling and praying in front of the reredos (distinguished from the retable counterpart by the fact that it rises from the floor and not from the altarpiece itself or the surface behind it), really gives the viewer an idea of the scale and grandeur.

However, not to be outdone, this isn't the only masterpiece of the Church of the Incarnation as every corner you turn contains another gilded beauty (yes, as you may have guessed, we're in a Catholic church!!!). Even the organ dubbed "órgano del sol mayor" (organ of the greater sun) is a treasure in itself, completed in 1975 it is one of the most important organs to be built in Spain in the last 125 years, sadly I didn't get to hear it play, but I'm sure it is Heavenly (pun totally intended)!!!

So there you have it, my visit to Casco Antiguo.

What was your favourite part or picture from this post?

Do you like to wander around old European towns while on holiday and make little discoveries along the way, or do you prefer the hustle and bustle of more touristic destinations?

What has been your favourite place to visit as of late?

 

xxxemma

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Marbella - Fuerte Hotel

Now that it is nearly winter and a lot of you might be missing the sun, I thought why not do a couple of posts about my Marbella family holiday? Well that, and I had about a thousand photos to go through (sadly I'm not even kidding!), so it took a bit of time to edit.

Relax, sit back, and pretend you're back on your summer holiday (drinking a cocktail is completely optional too)!

You might recognise the inside of this gorgeous Fuerte Hotel located on the Costa del Sol from my Marbella Evening Outfits post. However, now you get to see it in detail, woop...woop!

THE BAR/LOUNGE

During the day, the actual bar area was usually empty. As you can imagine most people preferred to lounge in the sun, and with plenty of seating available (both inside and outside) you could chat away and have a relaxing lunch without straying too far from the poolside.

But if you do want to be inside, you'll find yourself in good company...while taking these snaps I came across a little bird that had wondered into the bar (clearly thirsty). Unfortunately, I scared it away before I could get any good photos (my Snow White dreams have yet to be realised) ...I know what you're thinking, no...it didn't even send me a tweet!

For non-alcohol drinkers like me, do be warned though, despite the cocktail menu clearly stating what goes into every cocktail, they aren't actually made from scratch. So when you ask for a mocktail suddenly everyone gets a bit confused, and since they might not have all the ingredients at hand, you might find yourself with a Piña Colada that's really just an expensive pineapple juice!

In the evening, the outside lounge area became a stage for the themed performances that happened every night; from Flamenco dancing, to singing or Paraguayan harp playing, there was something for everyone. And if you're lucky enough to be in a room overlooking the stage (like I was) then you can enjoy it all on your balcony whilst wearing your pyjamas and none would be the wiser. Best of all, they always stopped by 11h30 pm so no night's sleep was sacrificed.

THE READING AREA

There is a small bookcase filled with old guests' books, kindly donated to the hotel. From German to I think Slovak, there were quite a few options. Yes, I even spotted the discarded copy of Twilight that seems to make an appearance in every bookcase of this kind.

So if you haven't prepared any reading (or you're armed with your Kindle) and you want to take a break from the sun, there are plenty of comfortable seats to choose from. You'll also find the occasional guest snoozing in one of these seats, they are that comfy! And despite this area being located next to the kiddies' day care room (the Forti Club), it's surprisingly quiet.

THE DINNING AREA

Both breakfast and dinner were buffets. Because people tend to come down more or less at the same time for breakfast, getting a seat in the area outside was near impossible; on a 12 day stay we (as a family of four) only managed it once. But for dinner there was no such difficulty as people ate at very different times.

BREAKFAST

As you may have sussed out by my previous recipes on this blog, I eat gluten free. This is always a test for any restaurant.

Breakfast was AMAZING though!!! They had a little alcove full of gluten free cakes (delicious orange jelly filled sugar cakes...still dreaming about those to this day). One morning they even had Schär's hazelnut croissants (which I can't find here in Belgium) so I nabbed them and asked the chef making the omelettes on demand to warm them in the oven for me.

Unfortunately, bread had the same system (you have to go to the chef for him to warm them) which is rather time consuming having to wait 15 minutes every morning. Plus the two tiny rolls you get in one bag (no risk of cross-contamination here) aren't really worth it. But if you're prepared to go to the local Supermercado you'll find Schär bread no problem. So you too can avoid that annoying wait by just bringing your own bread down to breakfast.

LUNCH

Since I tended to eat quite a big breakfast (a gf ham and cheese sandwich and gf pastries) I wasn't hungry for lunch and tended to skip it, so I can't really attest to the hotel's option there. And well, I may or may not have sneaked a few pastries from breakfast up to my room to eat if I really got hungry during the day...

DINNER

When it came to the dinner buffet, the gluten free options were pretty limited. The chef present was there to freshly grill meat or fish per request and had no real idea as to what had gone into the separate dishes in the buffet (not his job). So I ended up eating plain grilled chicken 12 nights in a row (good thing I'm not vegetarian too otherwise I would have been eating air for dinner). I mean they did have a salad bar to be fair, but I'm not fond of salads but I did find happiness with their delicious green olives.

I did also have some gazpacho too, for the last couple of nights anyway, but I was just assuming there was no gluten in there (the croutons were in a separate dish). No one actually knew for sure its content (it's important to note that I'm not actually Celiac, I'm just gluten intolerant, so my risk factor is a lot less than yours might be). Plus, there was a language barrier to contend with, but if you mention "Celíaco" they'll know what they are dealing with, even if it unfortunately doesn't broaden your buffet options.

Desserts were the worst, every single dessert had some sort of sponge thing in it, only one night did they have a strawberry mousse without any. So I stuck to their ice creams (the Neapolitan choice). Where one of the kind French chefs took pity on my struggling to try and make a ball with a scoop, and showed me how it is done...I'm now an expert ice cream scooper!

THE GARDEN/POOLSIDE

Now if you're a fan of tanning then you have three choices when it comes to the Marbella Fuerte Hotel: the garden, the poolsides (there are two, one of which converts into an indoor pool) and the beach.

The garden is gorgeous and if you're lucky enough (or pick your moment right) then you just might get a tanning bed in the garden overlooking the sea (and get a wonderful breeze too).

The garden also comes with 5 patio poster beds that you can rent at €20 a day. Personally, I didn't book one (because there was ample space on the other normal tanning beds). But my favourite ones are seen in the picture above, with prime location near the pool and in the garden, with a view of the sea, what more could you ask?!!

However my favourite tanning location had to be the beach! For the simple reason that it had the best breeze and therefore you didn't end up sweating buckets whilst trying to tan.

From the garden/poolside there is easy guest access to the beachfront walkway via a key card secured gate, and to the beach via an underground tunnel.

P.S. I tried my best not to get anybody in shot while they were in swimwear (at least their faces). If I'm not prepared to show myself in a bikini on the internet, I'm not going to subject a stranger to that fate either. Hence I couldn't get any good photos of the pools. But the Fuerte Hotel's website has some good pics, so head on over there if you're desperate to see them.

THE BEACH

The beach was gorgeous, I spent most of my tanning time here. However, do be warned, since the beach is free to the public you will get some people walking up to you trying to sell you cheap knock-off designer handbags and the like. Although if you're busy listening to music or reading a book and don't have your handbag in sight (I hid mine under my tanning bed) I found that because they think you aren't carrying cash on you, they leave you alone pretty quickly.

I also enjoyed collecting seashells and bits of corroded coloured glass, what can I say I'm a kid at heart! However, I never actually went swimming in the sea for two reason a) it was way too cold and b) it's the SEA!!! I have no idea if what's touching my leg is a bit of seaweed or a girl-eating fish...we've all seen that first scene in Jaws!!! So I keep my swimming to nice and calm chemically poisoned, sorry I mean "chlorinated" pools!

THE BEACH RESTAURANT

I didn't end up eating anything at this restaurant since I skipped lunch most days (as you'll know from above), but it was always busy so it must have been good?! Open to everyone not just hotel guests, you can get to it from the beachfront walkway (via stairs) or directly from the beach itself.

THE BEACHFRONT WALKWAY (EL PASEO MARITIMO)

Full of cute little souvenir shops, restaurants and typical touristy stuff...I spotted an inflatable Dolphin that I was really tempted to buy (I'm naming him Swimmy!). You definitely need to stroll down this walkway at least once during your stay. Personally at night it got a bit too crowded for my tastes but if that's your thing, go for it!

So there you have it, the gorgeous Costa del Sol hotel that my family and I stayed at for our summer vacay. I leave you with these two last gorgeous sunset photos (the first one flips into a sunset).

What's your favourite thing to do on holiday?

What your favourite cocktail (or mocktail) to drink on holiday? And favourite food?

Are you more of a pool or sea person?

 

xxxemma

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Gluten Free Halloween Sugar Cookies

Last year I attempted to make these cookies but it was a horrible crumbly mess, in my defence I had used a non-gluten free recipe and converted it myself...wasn't great. This year I learnt my lesson and searched for a gluten free recipe to begin with. I found this amazing recipe on the Betty Crocker website (for my American readers just follow the link for your preferred unit of measurement but I'll stick to my grams).

Now I didn't have any shortening but after a quick Google search I found it could be replaced in equal measurement by butter. This just changes the texture a bit because it contains water, meaning your cookies will spread out more and lose a bit of their shape while baking, but as you can see from my photos this wasn't by much!

DIRECTIONS

  1. Beat granulated sugar and softened butter in a large bowl until creamy
  2. On low speed beat in vanilla and egg
  3. Stir in flour blend, baking powder and salt until well mixed (don't feel tempted to add xanthan gum, the dough is sticky enough as is)
  4. Divide dough in two (makes it more manageable later on) make them in a rough ball shape and wrap in plastic wraps placing them in the fridge for an hour
  5. Heat oven to 200°C (for fan oven 180°C)
  6. Work on clean surface dusted in gluten free flour (the dough is extremely sticky so use generously including on rolling pin and both sides of the dough itself) roll out dough to approx. 1/2 cm
  7. Cut out desired shapes and place on non-greased baking paper (on oven tray) about 3 cm apart
  8. Bake until edges are lightly browned; this should be about 8 to 12 minutes but because my oven is "special" it took 20 minutes for each batch
  9. Repeat steps 6-8 until all dough is used up

Armed with my Halloween cookie cutters (alternatives here) I was ready to begin.

For the icing I had never thought of using milk before, I've always just added water to my powdered sugar (a great alternative if you're lactose intolerant) but the milk does make the icing a bit richer and creamier...nummy nummy!

The measurements I have given below are very approximate, I did it more by eye than anything, getting the right icing consistency takes practice; here is a link which you might find useful if you're a novice. For my food colouring I used Dr. Oetker Gel Food Colours, great array of colours!

The Pumpkin

The less sugary biscuits of the bunch since they don't have so much icing. I used 20g powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of milk and orange food colouring for the outline of the pumpkins. I added the eyes and mouth with left over black icing (see below) and added further green for the stems (5g powdered sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of milk and green food colouring).

The Bat

For the black icing I used approximately 150g powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk and lots of black food colouring (enough that it doesn't look grey). I knew I would need a lot of it as I needed to glaze the bats, the black cats (see below) and add detailing on the pumpkins and ghosts.

Once I had done the black glazing all over the biscuits, outlining my shape first then filling in with a zig zag motion, I put them in the fridge for 15 minutes or so. Once that layer had hardened I added two big white blobs for the eyes, and two small white ones for the fangs. I then added the final black blob for the pupils without putting it in the fridge in between that layer and the white one (I wanted it to blend a bit).

The Ghost

BOO!!! Admit it, you were scared?!! For the ghosts I used 125g powdered sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons of milk approx. No added colouring since the sugar is already white. Again I did the outline first then filled in, put in fridge for 15 minutes then added the black small blobs for the eyes and slightly bigger more arched shape for the mouth.

 

The Black Cat

For the black cats (nod to all the superstitious folks out there) I only did a black glazing without any further detailing. I would have added some green cat eyes but the angle of the head made it very hard to determine where their placement would be, and since I only had four left (a lot had burnt tails or lost them in the baking process) I didn't want to ruin the last survivors...R.I.P. to the ones that didn't make it, you were still delicious! :)

There you have it a rather more successful attempt at the gluten free sugar cookie (Halloween shapes are optional).

Now my delicious cookie army is ready to be eaten...bon appétit!!!

What is your favourite Halloween candy/treat?

What's your best Trick or Treating memory?

How are you celebrating Halloween tonight? I'm thinking scary movie while eating a bunch of these cookies :)

 

xxxemma

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Gluten Free Easter Nutella Cake

Happy Easter!!! Or as I like to call it; Stuffing Your Face Full of Chocolate Day!!! (what too long?!). Whatever you might be up to today (hunting for eggs in your garden, admit it!) today feels like spring has finally sprung, and what better way to celebrate it than with a green cake! But not just any green cake, no, a Nutella filled gluten free, chocolate cake!

While living in Belgium and being lucky enough to have access to some of the best chocolate in the world (Switzerland...I see you) it is also a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to spreadable chocolate, Nutella is the one to beat. Plus, you guys will find it a lot easier to get your hands on it than coming all the way over here to the land of chocolate (and it's cheaper too).

For this recipe I combined the decoration from a cake decorating inspiration book with the inner cake based off of a recipe from a 30 culte Nutella recipes mini book. Now I would show you the photo I used for inspiration, but in comparison my cake doesn't look half as good. What can I say, they actually had flower cutters, I had to make do with my hands and the one flower cutter I do own. (Since baking this cake my mum has been very generous and ordered me two sets from Divertimenti, can't wait!).

Ingredients for cake (Serves 8):

  • 2 sandwich tins 9 inch (greased and floured with gluten free normal flour not self-raising)
  • 175g sifted plain white flour (Doves Farm gluten free; don't add xanthan gum as it will make the mixture too sticky)
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 175g butter (soften to room temperature)
  • 175g brown sugar (I used Cassonade which is quite a finely milled brown sugar but I don't think it makes much difference)
  • 4 eggs (I used medium sized; which do look quite small to me, but they were enough)
  • 4 tablespoons of Nutella (the recipe originally called for just 2 but that was with a very rich chocolaty icing. Since I swapped my icings for a plain but coloured one I put in 4 tablespoons, unlevelled...think more like tablespoon scoops, and it was just chocolaty enough)
  • 1 big jar of Nutella for the "icing" in the middle of both cake layers (the jars are labelled gluten free)

The book's instruction says to fling all the ingredients together into the bowl of a food mixer, but as I only have a hand held mixer, I first put all my dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, baking powder, sugar) added my softened butter, blended a bit. Then I added the wet ingredients, the 4 eggs and blended till the mixture was well combined. Lastly I added the 4 tablespoons of Nutella and blended again.

Divide the mixture equally between 2 greased and floured (gluten free) 9 inch sandwich tins, level with a palette knife and bake for 30 minutes (although keep an eye out after 25) at 180°C in a fan oven or 200°C for a non-fan oven.

My oven is a particularly difficult one (non-fan) so mine cooked for about an hour at 200°C with me swapping over the tins half-way through (from top shelf to bottom) then taking them out of their tins and putting them back in (upside down) each for 5 minutes (the bottom wasn't properly cooked. I wouldn't recommend this technique (if you can call it that) as it made my cakes rather dry, but better than un-cooked right?

Once you have taken the cakes out of their tins, let them cool on a cooling rack. Cut the top of the cake you want as your top layer (try to get the thinnest one on the top if possible) as they do tend to rise a bit in the oven. Spread a generous coat of Nutella on the top of your bottom layer, and place the top one on top. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes (you don't want hot cake melting your icing).

Ingredients for Icing/Decoration:

  • 2 packets of 250g Ready-to-Roll green icing
  • 1 packet of 250g Ready-to-Roll pink icing
  • 1 packet of 250g Ready-to-Roll yellow icing
  • 1 packet of 250g Ready-to-Roll white icing
  • Smarties for the coloured centre of the flowers (or mini M&M's)

Knead both 250g of green icing and try and make it into a ball, then roll it out into a circle as best you can. Keep rolling it out till you have achieved the circumference of your cake plus enough to drop down over the edges. Place over cake, centre as much as possible and cut off the edges (I had to cut them off using "cooking" scissors because my knife wasn't getting through the thick icing). Glue down the edges as best you can with Nutella (use a knife with Nutella on it and scrape off on the insides of the edges).

Knead and roll out small chunks from your other coloured Ready-to-Roll icing packets (I had tons left over) then cut out the flowers and place as you wish. Add the Smarties to the centre of some of your flowers (again as your creativity dictates).

And Voilà, Bon Appétit!

Alternatively, if you can't be bothered to bake on this relaxing day, then Marks and Spencer have made some very cute Easter Chocolate Egg Baskets, which I checked and the ingredients are in fact gluten free (Belgium chocolate, although delicious, tends to also contain gluten unfortunately, so unless you've specifically checked with your chocolatier don't risk it).

But Belgium wouldn't be Belgium without wacky chocolates. I'm not sure about the gluten content of this next recommendation, I haven't had any problem with it though. Leonidas is one of our top fancy chocolate makes (Godiva, Neuhaus and Galler are the others off the top of my head) and last year they came out with little milk chocolate eggs containing...wait for it...popping candy!!!

So now, not only are the eggs delicious, but they are fun to eat too! Plus, if you're gluten free you get the crunch of a biscuit filled chocolate without the actual biscuit, amazing invention Leonidas! Very happy that they brought them back again this year, they are called Sucré Pop and are only available Easter time, so go, go, go, while you still can!

So there you have it, a new post full of deliciousness! I'm sorry all chocolate haters (I know there are some of you out there), but what did you expect from someone who called herself LilacChocolate, honestly my chocoholic problem was pretty obvious! :P

What are you doing this Easter?

Do you bake Easter cakes? This is the first year I've done one. :)

What's your favourite chocolate egg to buy this time of year?

Now I'm off to nummy...nummy :)

 

xxxemma

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Gluten Free Coffee & Almond Cake

A couple of days ago was my Mum's birthday and what better way to celebrate than following tradition with her favourite family recipe passed down to her from her own Mum (my maternal grandmother)! I have however adapted the recipe to make it a gluten free version.

I wouldn't say this cake is solely for coffee lovers out there, on the contrary I'm not a coffee drinker but I very much enjoyed this cake back when my stomach could still tolerate it, that is! Don't worry, normal stomachs are fine, mine's just "special". I did have a morsel though just to make sure I didn't need to alter anything and without tooting my own horn, this has the be the best one I've made yet (toot...toot!).

Ingredients for cake (Serves 8):

  • 2 sandwich tins 9inch (greased and floured with gluten free normal flour not self-raising)
  • 227g self-raising flour (gluten free; no need to add xanthan gum as it will make the mixture too sticky)
  • 170g castor sugar (I used ultra fine, but it works with plain too)
  • 170g margarine (or butter, whatever the preference or what's in your fridge at the time)
  • 113g ground almonds
  • 4 eggs: 3 large, 1 standard (I used 4 large because they looked rather small for being large)
  • 6 dessertspoons of COLD black coffee (I used vanilla flavoured, but normal works fine too)
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
  • Pinch of salt

Make 3/4 of a cup of instant coffee (or other coffee of choice) and leave to cool (put in fridge for faster result), take out butter and eggs from the fridge to let warm to room temperature whilst coffee is cooling (approx. 1 hour).

Sift flour and salt. Cream margarine (or butter) and sugar with vanilla essence in bowl. Add warmed eggs (i.e. eggs at room temperature) at 10 second intervals (assuming you are using a food mixer, I just used a beater) then beat hard for 1 minute. Add the ground almonds and beat till almonds are blended in mixture (about 10 seconds). Then add 1/2 the flour and 3 dessertspoons of coffee and beat again (about 10 seconds), then remainder of the flour and another 3 dessertspoons of coffee and beat making sure everything is well blended together.

Spread evenly in 2 greased and floured (gluten free) 9inch sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes (although keep an eye out after 25) at 180°C in a fan oven or 200°C for a non-fan oven.

Ingredients for Icing:

  • 170g margarine (or butter)
  • 312g sifted icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence (had I used normal coffee I would have added an extra teaspoon for a more vanilla-y flavour)
  • 3 tablespoons of COLD black coffee (I added an extra tablespoon of my vanilla flavoured coffee because my family loves coffee, but start off with 3 and taste test to see if you want to add more)

Mix together margarine (or butter at room temperature), icing sugar, coffee and vanilla essence. When the cake is cool, sandwich the rounds together, retaining some icing for the top of the cake (and sides if that's how you wish to decorate).

Decoration (Optional):

  • Chocolate sauce
  • Coffee beans (real coffee beans are not edible so if you can find chocolate ones, even better)
  • Brésilienne (chopped caramalised nuts)

Squeeze the tube of chocolate sauce in a zig-zag motion over the cake, swivel cake 90° and zig-zag again, you get this lovely asymmetric grid pattern. Add coffee beans in whatever pattern you like (make sure to warn your guests if they're not edible though, don't want to ruin that lovely cake flavour). Add the brésilienne all along the edge, this is the first year I did this (to cover up the uneven edging of the icing for the photos) but it gave the cake an extra "biscuity" crunch that was much enjoyed, to repeat!

So there you have it, a much loved family recipe modernised "à la gluten free" for you to enjoy and decorate as creativity inspires!

Have you got any family recipes that have been passed down through generations?

Are you a baking wizard that has come up with new yummy cake combinations? If so, do share!

What's your favourite part about making a cake? Mine is definitely the decorating :D

 

xxxemma

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Gluten Free Afternoon Tea?

Now I've already talked about my love for Marks and Spencer's clothes in a previous fashion post, but I have yet to mention their food. Having recently re-opened their store in Brussels (we've had to live without them, here in Belgium, for 14 years people!) their main attraction is their GINORMOUS Food Hall! Amongst which, a selection from their "Made Without Wheat" range (unfortunately I couldn't find this selection on their website to link to, but visit any of their Food Halls in person and you'll be sure to come across it).

As a gluten free eater this, of course, is the little niche I like to head for when I go every so often for a food shop. Now I know I've enthused about the joys of baking (especially Delia Smith recipes) in a previous post but sometimes you just can't be bothered to bake from scratch. Being a gluten free eater, this rather limits your options especially concerning baked goods. This is where Marks and Spencer can't be beaten, it has a range of fresh gluten free cakes at your disposal, including decorated celebration and birthday cakes (which don't have to be eaten on said special days..."A very merry unbirthday to me, To who?, To me, Oh you!") and of course if you don't follow the Mad Hatter's philosophy on life (who wouldn't, I say "let them eat cake!") there are also your standard combinations to choose from; Carrot & Walnut, Coffee & Walnut, Chocolate Fudge, Lemon Drizzle and the classic Victoria Sandwich (featured here).

So now you can enjoy your cuppa with a nice slice of cake, hassle free (important to note that they're not egg or dairy free). Bon appétit!!!

What's your favourite cake to eat with your tea?

What's your favourite tea? I'm currently loving Twinings' Decaffeinated Earl Grey :)

And a very merry unbirthday to you!

 

xxxemma

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Christmas at Bluewater

Ever since the Bluewater shopping centre opened in 1999 in Kent England, I've been going there to shop. Seeing as I was only 8 at the time my parents might have had something to do with it, but needless to say I grew up with this shopping centre. Now, why not just shop in Belgium for all your Christmas shopping I hear you ask? Well, it's not quite the same, we don't have such a huge shopping centre here in Belgium (I'm sure Americans are wondering why I'm making such a big deal about a mall, but imagine not having one...I know, right! Shock Horror). And customer service is near to non-existent here in Belgium. I once had to stand at a till (first one in-line) for twenty minutes being ignored with my goodies in hand at a Lush store (known to have excellent customer service)...as I said, not the same! 

Bluewater always goes full-out for Christmas, and the whole centre gets decorated. This year was the first year I personally got to witness the Christmas lights being turned on, I know in 16 years how have I managed to miss that? Well we (my parents and my brother) usually do our week of shopping coincidentally a week before or after they are due to be turned on (second week of November) and hence we always manage to just miss the turning on event. So this was my lucky year and I brought my camera with me (see photos below)!

But what else is on offer at Christmas? For adults and children alike (we all know adults are just big kids really).

  • Santa's Grotto: which I can confirm was a magical experience albeit a bit scary...it might have been the early 2000s but being scared of Santa is timeless...I mean he's the one who decides if you get presents that year...nerve-racking for any kid!)
  • An Ice Skating Rink: having only ever been ice skating three time in my life as a fully fledged adult (the rink wasn't a thing in Bluewater when I was a kid) and nearly concussing myself in the process (I know who would have thunk it...ice is one slippy little Son of a Biscuit!) I'm not sure who would want to attempt this dangerous sport. I kid, you will find your butt to be an excellent natural cushioning to anything you might face! It takes some getting used to, but (pun intended) I hear it's incredibly freeing when you get the hang of things (which I have yet to achieve unfortunately). And with lessons on offer, who can deny this magical slippery dance a chance (P.S. kids have much less of a distance to fall, combining this with their fearless attitudes be prepared to be overtaken by mini Speedy Gonzaleses every slide you take).
  • A Giant Snow Slide: again as this has only appeared at Bluewater in the last five years, I have not had a chance to experience it (or even see it) but what doesn't sound awesome about a Giant Snow Slide!
  • A Family Photobook offer: so now all your ice skating fails can be forever immortalised in print! Nah…I'm assuming this is for the very important meeting with Santa (I'm sure I have a photo stashed somewhere of my brother and I with Santa in his Grotto dating back to the early 2000s, but just use your imagination for now).
  • 4D Cinema: the film, "Sleigh Ride". This is a 3D film with the added benefit of experiencing snow and wind through your hair as the film progresses (nooo...it's not just held outside!) I'm sure a lot of fun for the kids :)
  • And of course Light Night which is the turning on of the Christmas Lights in the second week of November (there's always next year…soz) which is a completely free event.

Now for the big kids: shopping!

  • The Giving Tree: the idea is to give to less fortunate kids this Christmas. You go to the tree in question (near M&S, Upper Mall) you select a girl or boy's name tag which will give you an age, and it's free rein from there. Buy any, appropriate, gift from the Bluewater shopping mall (obv!) and deposit it back unwrapped to the Drop Box by the Giving Tree and voilà, it's that easy to make a little girl or boy, under less fortunate circumstances, smile this Christmas!
  • Christmas Gift Wrapping Service: if you aren't as nit-picky as me then chances are you don't already have a wrapping paper colour scheme already picked out (I know...total weirdo!), in which case you might need a little extra help; open from the 27th November to 24th of December
  • There are a lot more Christmassy activities organised by individual shops, so go take a gander via this link to what might take your fancy :)

Maybe it's the time of year (obv!) but you will notice Christmas shops popping up here and there, i.e. glitter tree decoration Heaven! My personal favourites; “Flutterbyes at Christmas” and the “Christmas Magic” shop.

Now for beauty bits and bobs which I know you’re all here for:

But first an announcement has to be made: KIKO has made an appearance at Bluewater…this is not a DRILL, I repeat its is NOT A DRILL!!! Who am I kidding, run girls…RUN!!! No but seriously, I talked to one of the retail assistants whilst paying for my goodies (couldn’t resist: watch out for a post on their Rebel Romance Collection) it’s been there for the last two months. So now you don’t have to trek all the way to London. Kent will do :P

Right beside it: Lush! Because what is Christmas without one of their awesome Christmas box sets (cruel is what it is!), my personal choice; that I hope Santa will give me “The Christmas Bathtime Favourites” solely comprised of Bath Bombs which are my favourite products from Lush.

Although to be honest I’ve only really tried their Bubble Bars and Bath Bombs. I’m still nursing my wound at their decision to discontinue Space Girl, my favourite Bath Bomb (that I could get all year round), now I’ll just have to stick to Cinders come Autumn/Winter (I’ve stocked up…MWA HA HA!!!). I’m hoping the box set will introduce me to a new favourite scent, as that’s after all the job of these tasters :)

Really any beauty obsessed person knows that Boots and Superdrug are a must when going Christmas shopping, or just stocking up on essentials.

Luckily when I went to Boots this November, it coincided perfectly with their bi-annual 3 for 2 on all makeup, God I love their 3 for 2s! Ladies (and gents) this is the time to test out products you might not usually go for at full price or even just the very hyped products you’ve been dying to try.

In my case, this is when I stock up on Revlon, Rimmel and Maybelline products because only certain Di's here in Belgium carry Rimmel (forget Revlon and Maybelline) and it’s never the full line. But it’s not all bad, Di carries: The Balm, Essie, L’Oréal, Orly, Sleek and of course Real Techniques’ brushes (YAY for the pixiwoo sisters Sam and Nic!) amongst other brands I’ve not really heard much about. Anyway back to Boots. They also have an amazing selection of 3 for 2s on gift sets; and this is not just for the beauty lover, you can find amazing gifts for everyone in your family and friends.

P.S. Don’t forget to get yourself a Boots Advantage card, your points accumulate money and before you know it, you’ll have a lovely nest egg to spend (open internationally, the card can also be used on their international website)

Now, I don’t go to Superdrug as often as Boots, but their many collaborations with YouTubers is certainly pulling in the crowd! So if you’re beauty guru obsessed like me, or have a little sister or friend who loves beauty gurus as much as I do, then head to Superdrug before the limited Christmas edition gift sets get sold out. Unfortunately, it was too late for me (even in early November), Zoella’s lip balm duo was nowhere to be seen :/

Topshop beauty is also a must see, when shopping for a beauty obsessed person or yourself; their beauty range is fantastic! I highly recommend their lip velvets which only seem to come out in the Autumn/Winter season (some people like matte velvet lips all year round, you know…Topshop!)

The next one is a bit tricky and has me rather confused. This time last year, the Next at Bluewater was carrying NYX Cosmetics and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. I finally got to get my hands on their "Butter Glosses" and try them out (quite a bit stickier than most describe, but my tolerance for sticky lipglosses is quite low…I’m a lipstick girl through and through). Having talked to a sales assistant at the time she seemed rather unfazed that they were there, hence I naively thought it would be a permanent fixture. Nope! This year NYX is nowhere to be seen, I guess you’ll just have to stick (get it? sticky lipgloss) to their website :/

All your M.A.C. Cosmetics and Urban Decay needs are of course covered by House of Fraser. But if you’re looking for Too Faced unfortunately you won’t find it in any of the stores mentioned above. They are carried by Debenhams which is in the Intu Lakeside shopping centre (in Essex, half an hour from Bluewater, via the Dartford crossing). Unfortunately, not a big selection but I found the “Shadow Insurance” I was in desperate need of (I may or may not have been still using a very out-of-date one at the time).

Now if shops aren’t quite your thing there are also some stands along the lower mall walkway, including a giant Maybelline stand, also offering 3 for 2.

As for fashion:

New Look is my beacon of light when it comes to shoes (I swear I can hear a chorus of angels singing each time I walk into their shoe section). I first discovered their excellence in that domain when I was looking for the perfect shoes for my prom dress (sparkly gunmetal grey if interested for my "Ball du Bac" as we called it) which I bought before I even found my dress in Oriental Pearl (also in Bluewater). Needless to say I wandered in New Look and my shoe addiction has only grown ever since. This year I bought a lovely pair of glittery gold heels for the festive season…gorgeous!

For accessories who else to turn to but Accessorize! I really have to commend their effort on their Christmas window displays, they always do an excellent job. For that glittery accent to your outfit, Accessorize is your best bet. Jewellery, clutches and shoes, oh my!!!

Clothing wise:

Dorothy Perkins have a very feminine aesthetic which I love. I stocked up on lace tops (all discounted…score!), because they are my way of living vicariously on the set of Reign (awesome TV Show, the dresses are to die for; the designs are a perfect blend of the historical with a twist of modern silhouettes and patterns…truly stunning!)

As someone who tends to stick to the shops I know and love (anyone else guilty of that? leave it in the comments), it’s rare that I step out of my comfort zone to explore new shops. Here in Belgium we have a small shopping centre in Louvain-La-Neuve called the “Esplanade” where I have what I call my “triangle of doom”: C&A, H&M and Zara.

But last year; I took one small step for woman and one giant leap for shoppingkind and I discovered “Apricot”. Have you ever walked into a store and seen yourself wearing every single piece of clothing? Well, that’s what happened to me, if you’d like a better idea of my style then head over to their site, because Apricot is basically me in a store :P Plus they are reasonably priced, cheaper than Topshop, I’d say around the New Look mark.

Finally, my last clothing destination is Marks and Spencer. I don’t really like Topshop for clothes because I can never seem to find anything that flatters my pear-shape body plus "daz essspensive!" to quote KathleenLights. As for H&M, I can find them easily in Belgium.

After a quick look at the M&S shoes (I’d say my shoe collection is comprised of 40% M&S, 40% New Look and 20% miscellaneous) I go for the clothes, sometimes I find a lot of things I like, other times; nada de nada! This time I found this gorgeous faux-suede plum/burgundy biker jacket and an adorably cute pink jumper with polar bears on it, can’t wait for those as Christmas pressies!

Homeware and miscellaneous:

John Lewis and M&S are the go-to for most people, I think, when it comes to homeware and I can’t disagree. Furthermore, JL had a small selection of Delia Smith’s Silverwood baking utensils as suggested by her book, (seen in the previous post) I personally went for 2 muffin tins, as I can’t seem to find consistent sizing across brands (some look like fairy cake sizes others like mini pies; but all described as muffin tins?).

Also, if you’re looking for gluten-free food then JL’s Waitrose on the Basement floor has an excellent, albeit small, selection of goodies and M&S has all your Christmas cake and mince pies needs covered (or mice pies as I recently texted my mum, I know sounds squeaky)! Christmas decorations are definitely a must in both shops too.

Books :

Waterstones, what else? I always love the atmosphere of bookshops, so calm and relaxing. I still miss the huge Borders located by the Lakeside shopping centre all those years ago. Anyway, Waterstones is great because this time of year they offer special collectors' editions, as well as quirky Christmas gifts or even relaxing adult colouring books; the choice is yours!

So there you have it; Bluewater’s Christmas schedule and guide to Christmas shopping for any newbie that might not know English shops, or those simply interested in a new perspective :)

Let me finish this post with the magical lights of Bluewater...

What are your favourite shops to shop in at Christmas time? I’m interested, even if you don’t live in the UK.

Have any of you experienced the New York Fifth Avenue Christmas window displays? I know that’s on my bucket list.

Who turns on the lights in your town or village?

Now I’m off to prepare my Christmas decorations extravaganza as my brother (or as I like to call him – the Grinch) banned me from decorating anything until the 1st… and guess what today is…MWA HA HA or should I say HO HO HO! :D

 

xxxemma

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Delia Smith's Banana & Walnut Loaf - Gluten Free

Now, if you're British, chances are that you've probably heard of Delia Smith and like me, you probably still remember as a child being mesmerised by her baking skills on TV. If you're from the US or simply haven't heard of her, then let me present a national treasure, Delia Smith - truly our queen of baking!!!

Back in the old days, Delia came out with her recipe book called Delia Smith's Book of Cakes in 1977, of which my mum still has a copy. I definitely inherited my baking gene from her, as her O-level in Domestic Science would attest. I don't really like cooking, since I'm always scared of giving myself food poisoning, however baking is way less intimidating and way more crafty in my opinion (all hail cake-decorating fun!).

Well, in 2013 Delia came out with the new and improved version of her bestseller and named it Delia's Cakes, nice and sleek; I know! 

The improvements: Every recipe has a picture! Might seem mundane to some of you, but when you have a recipe and you have no idea what it's supposed to look like, it becomes rather unnerving to even begin. Plus, if you like to eat with your eyes, then this book is the perfect sugary treat! 

The other major improvement I'd like to mention: allergies!!! Sadly a lot of people these days are born more allergic to things than previous generations, and that includes me and gluten (I'm also on a FODMAP diet at the moment but that's not relevant for now). Most people have ease of access to pre-baked goods, and are therefore less tempted to actually bake for themselves (let's be honest, it's quite time consuming). The allergic people out there, are the ones that have to bake for themselves and there is a real market for cookery books here.

Now, while sadly Delia had apparently not heard about Xanthan Gum (p.24 list of GF ingredients), which I'm sure my GF peeps out there see as a baking Godsend (it's basically food superglue, because GF is very crumbly since it doesn't have the wheat's binding agent), she still made a valiant effort to think of us (plus there's a section on egg-free recipes)! So just ignore the recipes she says aren't possible (there are only 8 out of 90), and add a teaspoon of magical Xanthan Gum (only for the ones she says aren't possible, the others don't require the extra binding). 

Even if you're a beginner, she's got you covered; there's a whole introduction to baking tins and utensils, which I found to be a very interesting read. Although, I don't personally think it's absolutely essential to own every single one, nor that they have to be to those exact specifications (she collaborated with Silverwood, which is a high quality British Bakeware Company - also very expensive). Just remember, that if you bake in a different size tin to hers or a different oven (fan and non-fan ovens vary baking times), you have to alter your baking time; the Golden Rule "If the knife comes out clean from piercing the centre, it's cooked".

Furthermore, if you don't know how to prepare egg whites for a recipe (for example), Delia has also got an online school (i.e. free online video tutorials) to help you as much as possible. So now everyone can be mesmerised by her baking videos at deliaonline.com! Even if you know how to do a lot of these things, I strongly suggest checking out the website anyway to hone your skills or just for pure nostalgia, it's up to you.

 

Now, I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to show off this recipe (for copyright reasons), but I have photographed it, so hopefully you can see the ingredients and instructions for yourselves.

The slight changes I made were:

- replaced the wheat flour with 225g of Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain White flour blend. This is definitely my favourite GF flour to use, even if it does contain Buckwheat which, despite being GF, bloats me up like a balloon; oats also do that to me. But with this flour blend, I don't seem to suffer from the strange ballooning side-effect (I'll take what I can get!) 

- also prepared my tin to be non-stick by buttering the sides and then sprinkling the same Doves Farm GF Plain White flour blend over the top.

- replaced the 40g of lard with butter, so in total I had 80g of butter

- I put 2 medium eggs in, because I can't seem to find any "large" eggs, or the ones I do find, seem awfully small to me. But my batter has never been too runny, so I think you can get away with 2 if you want.

- I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract, because I like my vanilla! And I think it goes well with the banana.

- I put 5 medium bananas in, because I like extra banana! Plus, the whole "6 bananas a day will kill you thing" is a myth, people! You would need at least 400 a day to reach critical potassium levels, and although I like my banana, I don't think even I could manage that.

- I didn't add the zest of orange (I simply didn't have any), but having added the lemon zest only once (I've done this recipe twice), I didn't notice much difference if I'm honest.

- As my oven is not a fan oven I put it to 200 °C for the same amount of time and that did the trick. Remember the Golden Rule for checking if it's cooked through though!

This was my yummy result:

Bon Appétit!

 

What's your all time favourite baking recipe?

Who would you consider a national treasure in baking where you come from?

If you're in the UK, do you still remember watching Delia as a child, or if you're all grown up, like my mum, what's your favourite Delia Smith recipe/book?

 

xxxemma

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